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The gold rush: This time Pedro's chase for USA's first Olympic gold medal is as a coach

Jimmy Pedro, the salesman, was on the phone at his Wakefield facility cutting some deal for mats at Mixed Martial Arts facility. He was as nonchalant as ever.

Only a few feet away, four athletes are strewn all over on the mats, some moaning and groaning on their backs as if bomb had hit the Pedro Judo Center in Wakefield.

But there was no bomb here, just hard work, which in this case was 10 minutes — with 30 second rest intervals — of all-out sprints to close out the morning workout session.

"They're doing OK," said Methuen's Pedro, looking over the mats at his at his pained athletes only a few feet away, showing no emotion or empathy. "That's the way you're supposed to feel. It's supposed to hurt. This is for the Olympics."

Don't be fooled by his nonchalance. He has lot on his plate, including running his own judo business, working as VP of marketing for Zebra Mats coaching world class judo players.

Lest we forget ... he's also a husband and father of four children.

These workouts on this particular day, as Pedro said, was for the Olympics.

Pedro's father, legendary judo coach Jim Pedro Sr., was running the boot camp-like workouts as the younger Pedro was tending to some work.

In reality, Pedro is as driven as ever he's ever been.

Pedro is back in the USA Judo scene, which means, of course, he's going for gold. Again.

This time, at age 41, he's going the 2012 London Olympic Games as the head coach of the USA Judo team.

The four-time Olympian (1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004) and a two-time Olympic bronze medalist (1996 and 2004) is overseeing a team of five USA judo players, two of which — Kayla Harrison and Travis Stevens — train year-round with Pedro.

Kayla Harrison (-78kg).

Harrison is the USA's and Pedro's best shot. She is currently ranked No. 4 in the world at 78 Kg. (172 pounds), but she won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championships and she took a bronze last year in Paris.

Travis Stevens (-81kg).

Travis Stevens Stevens is ranked eighth in the world 81 Kg. (178.5 pounds) and as recently as late March finished fifth at the major tournament in Azerbaijan. He might be the USA's best chance at a medal.

While USA Judo named Pedro their coach two years ago, they both chose Pedro long before that.

Harrison, 21, joined the Pedro Judo Center as a 16-year-old after her former judo coach had been sent to jail for 10 years for having an inappropriate relationship with her since she was 13.

Already identified as a future star in the sport, Harrison was thinking about leaving. That was until she met up with Jimmy Pedro and his dad.

"I was emotionally lost," said Harrison about her state of mind after her coach was sent to prison. "Then I get together with this and his dad. These are two people with values and goals. Jimmy had success. He was best judo player ever in our country. And his dad is probably the best coach we've ever had.

"It was the best decision of my life coming here," said Harrison, who came from Middletown, Ohio. "Jimmy has been able to get me to work harder than I thought I could. I owe all of my success to him and his dad."

Stevens joined Pedro for a different reason. He felt he needed a new direction and focus in the sport.

"I had a big disappointment in 2008," said Stevens, 26, who hails from Tacoma, Wash. "I was training with my coach in Montreal and started training too hard that summer and tore my hamstring. I needed a change.

"Jimmy offered me a different style," said Stevens. "It was more about strength and conditioning and being aggressive on the mat. It was exactly what I needed."

Harrison and Stevens were on Pedro's radar long before they arrived in Wakefield as he was part of a group a USA Judo group that initiated the "Under-23" program.

"Six years ago we identified the top 20 or so athletes we had that were under 23 years old," said Pedro. "They were both on it.

U23, identified the top 20 Judo players in the world. We wanted to offer training and competition for them, to help them get experience from the best in the world. We wanted to help them attend national camps where there is a certain structure and certain techniques."

Now nearly half of those original 20 are still competing on a world class level. A lot of those successes go right to Pedro's commitment to the sport in this country.

While he had to scrape sponsorship money for most of his career, while raising a family and running his own business, he has helped create a program in which the best of the best in USA Judo can work full-time at their craft, like Harrison and Stevens. He bought a building with several apartments near his Wakefield facility to help keep costs low.

"It's too hard to do it alone," said Pedro. "I did it that way. You are competing against athletes that are full-time judo players, who are treated like superstars in their country. Our athletes need support and that's what we're trying to do."

While Pedro seems to be at ease with his coaching position, it apparently isn't as easy at it looks.

"It's much more exhausting as a coach," said Pedro. "It's not just one athlete you're dealing with. There are several and each of them has their own needs. Some are high maintenance, some are low maintenance. It is very difficult, especially when you're sitting on a chair, when the athlete is not executing to the best of their ability. That can be very frustrating as a coach."

A difficult aspect of coaching, for Pedro, is the wide-ranging emotions during the Olympic trials and then the actual Olympic Games.

It's when personal goals are reached, or in most cases, or end in disappointment. While both of his bronze medals were historic in USA Judo circles, his goal was gold.

"Most exhausting days (as a coach) are they Olympic trials, because there is so much emotion that goes into it," said Pedro. "Most of these athletes have given up their entire lives for this sport. It is a huge emotional roller-coaster because there are those that make and there are those that don't."

But — and there is a big "but" here — coaching is the closest thing to being there.

"There is nothing like the exhilarating feeling of walking out there on the mat, preparing for a match," said Pedro. "But coaching is the only other outlet I have."

The only thing better than having one Jimmy Pedro is, well, having two of them.

Jim Pedro Sr. story is well-documented. He narrowly missed making the U.S. team for the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal and became obsessed with learning everything he could about the sport. That meant traveling the country and sitting alone for hours in drafty gymnasiums, where he'd watch anonymous athletes compete.

Young Jimmy says he wouldn't be able to do what he does, including his other job and running the facility, if it wasn't for having his dad around full-time as his unofficial assistant coach.

The Pedros split the travel required — Young Jimmy is taking the five members of the USA Judo team to Moscow next week — to be with the athletes. The fact that both have the same coaching ideals, it helps keep the athletes training and instructions consistent.

"Without my dad, it would not be possible to have such a successful team," said Pedro. "He is an integral part of my program and the success of our athletes. He dedicates countless hours behind the scenes to training their butts off and drilling them hard. His 'no nonsense' approach to coaching combined with my technique, understanding of the game, and experience makes a perfect team."

                             "Harrison considers the elder Pedro a father"

 

"He is special to me not only as a coach, because he's really tough, but as a mentor," said Harrison. "He really is a role model for me, the way he juggles his business, coaching and especially his family. He's a remarkable person. I owe so much to him."

 

What if Pedro had won the elusive gold medal in the 2004 Olympics? Would he be coaching in London?

Olympic Judo Dream

"That's a good question," said Pedro. "I don't know. We will never know the answer to that question. But I'm here. And if one of our athletes can win a gold medal, it would be a special moment in my life."

 

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SOURCE: Eagle Tribune & Youtube

                   COUNTDOWN LONDON 2012

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